The Taste of the Valley Art & Food Festival will debut Sept. 6 and 7 with a focus on fine art, along with food and beverage tasting and entertainment. Admission to the festival remains free.
Mike Donaghy, chairman of the board for the Tracy Chamber of Commerce, which runs the festival, said the new vision was a response to years of dwindling attendance. The bean festival was a downtown tradition for 27 years, starting in August 1987.
“Over the last few years we looked at, attendance and revenue were declining,” Donaghy said. “We want this to be a regional event. We are trying to make it more interactive and give people more things to do when they visit the festival in downtown.”
Sofia Valenzuela, chamber of commerce president, said the board talked to business owners, community leaders and other residents to get a feel for what the festival should include.
“It was really important for the board to create a new experience for attendees,” Valenzuela said. “We felt this new experience would allow flexibility from year to year and not be stagnant.”
Donaghy said the festival’s emphasis on art would take the form of professional art displays and sales. He said he expected a call for artists in the next few weeks and hoped many local artists would get involved, an aim that Valenzuela seconded.
“We’re hoping for an Artist Alley where we can feature local artists,” Valenzuela said. “We’re talking to the Grand Theatre to see if they can partner and have an event during the festival to help draw people to downtown.”
The new festival will also highlight regional crops. Both days of the Taste of the Valley Art & Food Festival will include a farmers market, and Donaghy said the organizers were approaching agricultural groups.
Keeping the festival different from year to year was a key part of selecting the general art-and-food theme, Valenzuela said.
“Every year, there will be a new emphasis. For a festival to exist, we have to make something new every year,” Valenzuela said. “This new festival will show a taste of the valley. It will have local artists and local crops. People can come and see them and be proud of the valley.”
With all the changes, the summertime festival will still feature beans and many familiar attractions. Favorites including a car display and children’s pageants will continue with new names.
“For those who like the old bean festival, those elements will still be there,” Donaghy said. “Many of the past vendors will return, along with more new ones. We’re adding new elements to give those people who have never come out to the festival a new reason to come.”
Dino Margaros, president of the Tracy City Center Association, said the chamber was setting up meetings with downtown merchants to learn what they want to see in the festival and what problems they have had in the past.
“I think they are looking at this with a vision to the future. It gives themselves a little bit flexibility, some latitude to fine-tune things,” Margaros said. “Times have changed over the past 27 years — Tracy has changed in that time. (The) focus doesn’t have to be on one specific thing.”
New to the downtown festival will be a wine and beer tasting section and a revised footprint, still centered on Central Avenue.
Valenzuela said three entertainment stages will anchor the festival.
“We envision a slightly smaller layout, jampacked with activities,” Valenzuela said.
The chamber of commerce has hired event planner Grace Paget of Captivating Moments Events Planning and Management to help organize the festival.
Even though the festival is still in the planning stages, Margaros said the changes were all for the good.
“Change it up, class it up — they are trying to raise the bar from where it has been,” Margaros said. “Trying to make it a community event the city of Tracy can take pride in and make it a regional draw.”
Applications for booths at Taste of the Valley Art & Food Festival will be available starting in April at the Tracy Chamber of Commerce office, 223 E. 10th St., or at www.tracychamber.org.
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